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On a cold winter morning along Foothill Road south of La Grande, a bald eagle heads for a more private perch from which to assess his potential eating opportunities. The eagle officially became our national emblem on June 20, 1782 — a decision Benjamin Franklin was famously not happy about. He much preferred the nation be represented by the Wild Turkey as opposed to “a bird of bad moral character.” CHRIS BAXTER/The Observer
Bald eagles have made strong comeback in Oregon, Union County
A tremendous conservation success story.
That’s how Martin Nugent, the Threatened, Endangered and Sensitive Species Coordinator for Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife described the bald eagle’s story in Oregon.
The bald eagle has a popular history throughout the United States.
It was selected by the U.S. Congress in 1782 as the national symbol, displacing the turkey that was proposed by Benjamin Franklin.
The bald eagle was strong in numbers in the Northwest until it started to slowly fade away in the 1950s. In 1975, the ODFW placed it on the endangered species list.
The reason for the bald eagle’s demise are numerous, but Nugent said one of the key reasons was the use of DDT, a pesticide used for mosquito control.
“The use of DDT had unforeseen consequences,” Nugent said.
“By the early 70s, DDT was banned, but bald eagles were already at an all-time low.”
According to a report released by the ODFW, there were 66 occupied breeding areas in Oregon in 1978. At the end of 2010, Nugent said there were 570 known breeding pairs in Oregon.
He added that bald eagles have increased 7.3 percent per year, and he anticipates that level for the foreseeable future.
“The purpose of the endangered species act is to recover. The bald eagle went from being on the brink of disappearing to one that is doing quite well,” Nugent said.
In Union County, there were four to five nesting pairs at the end of 2010.
Oregon sees an increased number of bald eagles during the winter months, when birds come down from Washington and Canada.
For those who are looking to spot these unique birds in Union County, there are certainly opportunities.
“It depends a lot on what time of year you are looking,” Jim Ward, a local wildlife photographer and former president of the Grande Ronde bird watching club, said.
“Most of the birds that we see here are migrants from up north. But, we do have a few resident birds.”
Ward said the best places to look for eagles now would be the upper Grande Ronde River drive. He said Troy is a good location and the highway along the Wallowa River from Elgin to Joseph.
Also, bald eagles can be seen at Ladd Marsh often.
“They look for deer and elk carcasses, and they cruise over the sewage ponds a lot, hoping to find crippled ducks from the nearby hunting,” Ward said.
According to the ODFW, bald eagles typically breed in forested habitats adjacent to large bodies of water and nests in trees.
Their report also said that breeding populations are associated with estuaries, rivers, reservoirs and lakes.
Always be cautious when viewing bald eagles.
“Disturbance is an issue. Distance is great when viewing. Bald eagles need large, undisturbed areas. We want to make sure they remain plentiful,” Nugent said.